The BC Liberals are under fire for corporate and union donations. The party raised $12.5 million in 2016

The BC Liberals are under fire for corporate and union donations. The party raised $12.5 million in 2016

CEPCO and Chilliwack city councillors make BC Liberal donor list

CEPCO president defends attendance at networking events with Premier 'to build relationships on behalf of our community'

BC Liberal party fundraising hit the provincial, national and even international media this week, and the party’s donor list has some Chilliwack content.

Among that local interest was the modest $520 paid to the BC Liberals by Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) to attend two networking events in 2016.

CEPCO is a separately incorporated business development corporation with one shareholder: the City of Chilliwack.

CEPCO president Brian Coombes defended the expense and said they would have done so no matter the party in power.

“One [event] had the Premier in attendance, and the other was with several ministers,” Coombes told The Progress via email. “We feel these opportunities are important for CEPCO to have a presence at to build relationships on behalf of our community.”

The 319-page list of BC Liberal party donors in 2016 was made public on the party’s website on Friday, leading to increasing scrutiny over corporate and union donations, criticisms over paying for access and more.

The BC Liberals raked in $12.5 million in 2016, and more is coming every day and is made public thanks to real-time reporting the party started in 2017.

Four City of Chilliwack city councillors’ names appeared on the 2016 donor list. In the case of three of them, Chuck Stam ($55), Sue Attrill ($55) and Ken Popove ($110), the dates of their “donations” all appear on March 31.

Coun. Chris Kloot’s name appears with a $300 donation on Nov. 3 and $55 on April 30. Kloot was asked if the money came from him as a city councillor or as a private  citizen and, if the former, if taxpayers footed the bill. Kloot said the $300 came out of his own pocket and was for an event he was invited to attend with his wife.

As for the $55, he said that was for a meet-and-greet with Clark when she was in town briefly in April.

Attrill said she paid the $55 for a networking event with the Premier and she paid for her own way to make sure she has Clark’s ear to benefit Chilliwack.

“City hall did not pay or reimburse me for the cost and I didn’t ask them to,” she said.

Both Stam and Popove, too, said their dollar amounts were for a reception at Bravo Restaurant when the Premier came to town, and they paid the expense personally attending as private citizens.

Beyond Chilliwack, large developers and resource companies topped the list of big-dollar contributors to the BC Liberals in 2016. From the Aquilini Investment Group’s $131,000 to John Redekop Construction’s $200,000 to Seaspan’s $122,050 to Teck Resources Limited’s $128,650, there is a long list of large corporate donations.

As for local content, a handful of other local companies and individuals made the donor list, most giving small amounts.

Baker Newby LLP, for example, gave $1,150 over four dates in the year, and former Chilliwack-Kent MLA Barry Penner gave $480 over three dates. Former city councillor Diane Janzen gave $500 in 2017.

B.C.’s no-limit policy on corporate or union donations has come under scrutiny. A recent New York Times exposé with the headline “British Columbia: The ‘Wild West’ of Canadian Political Cash,” pointed to personal enrichment of Premier Christy Clark and the $50,000 stipend she receives from the party on top of her $195,000 taxpayer-paid salary.

The BC Liberals have countered by making their donor list as transparent as possible, even moving to have it released in real time.

The party has bragged that most donations come from individuals, which is true, but almost two thirds of the dollar amount comes from corporations.

As for the NDP, the party has proposed banning corporate and union donations, legislation rejected by the governing Liberals.

The party has not released its own donor list ahead of reporting deadlines, calling the BC Liberal move a gimmick.

It should be noted that the donor list showed that Black Press donated $3,500 to the BC Liberals on Jan. 1, 2016 and a further $1,200 on Feb. 12.